Saturday, May 17, 2014

Cafe Absinthe

I first noticed the sign for Cafe Absinthe shortly after I moved to Chicago.  It was a few years after I noticed it, that I went for the first time.  It was a good thing though, that I had heard beforehand that the entrance was kind of secret because I may have never figured out how to enter.  While there is a sign for the restaurant on the road where it has its address, and there is actually a door there, it isn't a door that you can actually enter.  There is also a sign for the restaurant on a side street on the side of the building and the entrance is in the alley that runs behind the building that empties onto the side street.  There is a tavern that is on the corner that is actually connected to Cafe Absinthe through three doors inside, but they are employee doors and you cannot go from the tavern to the restaurant or vice versa.  Even though it is located in a high traffic area, it is actually kind of quiet and low key.  The alley entrance may very well be a part of that.  Inside, the space is very open with a high unfinished ceiling, brick walls (one with a faded wall ad for Pernod), candle light, and an open kitchen.  The tables are not squeezed together, so you can have your own conversation and move around the room if you need to.  They also no longer have their own web presence (There is no website for the restaurant although they do exist on sites such as yelp and menupages and you can make a reservation with OpenTable).  As the restaurant is French, the featured beverage is wine and while they don't have a long wine list, it does a good job at covering many bases.  The menu is a fairly standard French bistro menu.  There aren't really any surprises here, but what they do, they do well.  I started out with the Cheese Plate.  I was very surprised at how big it was.  It came with three goat cheeses: a ricotta style, a semi-soft , and a washed Cheddar style.  I unfortunately do not remember the names of the cheeses but they were all very good.  Also on the plate were a pile of Cornichons and Olives (Green and Kalamata), a thinly sliced Granny Smith Apple, Quince Paste, Date Apricot Chutney, and enough Grilled Bread to enjoy with everything.  Everything was very good and it was kind of fun trying the different elements of the dish together to see what I liked best (The semi-soft cheese with the quince paste on the grilled bread and a cornichon to finish).
For my entree, I went with the Grilled Halibut in a Velout√© Sauce with Tomatoes and Greens.  The fish was tender and perfectly cooked, the greens (and tomatoes) were fresh and flavorful, and the sauce was light and buttery and complemented the fish very well.  The only complaint was my own fault, I chose my wine before I really knew what I was going to order and I ordered a red burgundy (bourgogne) that while it tasted good, didn't really go with the food that I had ordered.
The dessert that Cafe is known for is a Chocolate Lava Cake with a Grand Marnier Sauce.  I have had that before and really liked it but one of my fellow diners was ordering it so I decided to try something else.  I got a Rum-Soaked Brioche Bread Pudding with White Chocolate and Coconut Ice Cream, Cocoa Nibs, Caramel, Raspberries, and Mint. This was also very good.  The bread pudding was a little more dense than other bread puddings I have had and it had a sweet and slightly boozy flavor.  The white chocolate and coconut ice cream went well with the bread pudding and kind of gave it a tropical drink flavor.  The cocoa nibs added some bitterness, the raspberries added a little tart, and the mint added mint.

It had been a while since I had been to Cafe Absinthe and it was somewhat comforting to see that things had remained largely the same.  I enjoyed my meal here.  The food and service were good and I really like the space.  I hope that I can return in the future and be comforted again.   

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